Steve Roach, Jorge Reyes & Elmar Schulte

Kulturwerkstatt, Paderborn, Germany - 2nd October 1992. by Serge Devadder

It's not that we don't get out often, but in order to make us drive for almost four hours to see a gig, it should at least be promising. Even so, we didn't even hesitate for half a second when this one was announced. The reputation of the three musicians involved seemed like a solid guarantee for an overwhelming musical evening.

The incredible quality of Steve Roach's music has earned him the status as one of the most respected synthesists among connoisseurs of adventurous electronics. His musical pathway started seriously about 10 years ago and in that decade he has shifted his style from Schulze-influenced sequencer-structures over Eno-esque ambient to an outstanding blend of floating synthetics with ethnic percussions. This resulted in a long list of truly impressive solo albums (EMPETUS, STORMWARNING, DREAMTIME RETURN, WORLD'S EDGE...) as well as a few widely acclaimed collaborations with Michael Shrieve, Robert Rich, Michael Stearns...

Considering the evolution that his music has gone through in the last few years, it didn't come as a big surprise that he teamed up recently with Jorge Reyes, the Mexican percussion wonder. Reyes masters the electric guitar and synthesizer as well as a wide range of ethnic instruments, from Maya-flutes over gourd drums to didgeridoo. He currently runs his own record label in Mexico City.

Elmar Schulte is another buddy of Steve Roach. Schulte (aka Solitaire) has released two albums of floating synthesizer music with strong Californian influence on Bernd Kistenmacher's Musique Intemporelle label. We already had the pleasure of hearing Roach and Schulte together during a bewildering concert at the 1991 KLEM festival in Holland.

This time, Roach and Reyes played in the home-town of the third "band" member. The venue was quite nice, intimate enough for the brooding atmospheres which were woven during this wonderful evening. Reyes' ethnic curiosa were displayed on a carpet in the middle of the stage, flanked on both sides by the electronic machinery of Schulte and Roach. He created an almost sacral ambiance by burning some incense and herbs in a poisonous yellow flame. Just a mattcr of getting in the appropriate mood. By the way, we would like to pay our respect to the Paderborn audience who listened with great concentration and in revered silence to what was at times pretty heavy music and containing its bewildered enthusiasm until the last note faded away in reverb.

So what was it like? Well, it's pretty hard to describe the indescribable. I've heard a few over the years, but this is something else! Two sets of an hour and an additional 30 minute encore were performed. The basic structure of all the music consisted of Steve Roach's dark overwhelming strings drowned in reverb, his hypnotic looped percussions, his thumping infrasonic drums and alienating sampled effects. Obviously, he has completely shifted his rhythmpatterns from STORMWARNING-like sequencers during last years' concert to percussion cues exclusively. Over these impressive structures, Jorge Reyes would add a tapestry of muffled percussions, shakers, chanting, shellhorns, etc... thus creating the necessary ritual, almost tribal feeling. He was discretely, although skillfully assisted by Elmar Schulte when this one could spare a few moments from his keyboards.

It should be said that Jorge Reyes somewhat stole the show due to the strong visual impact provided by his rhythmic movements. The way he elegantly moves and dances to his music, and the apparent ease with which he smoothly shifts instruments without loosing the pace of the "groove" is truly magic. One of the spectacular high points was arguably his body-percussion which consisted of slapping various parts of his anatomy and coughing up musical grunts. It came to me as a big surprise when I heard that Reyes started to play percussion only two years ago.

Technology was nicely used as well. One of the most interesting structures during the first set was an exciting looped percussion sample which Roach triggered once and a while in sync with Reyes' drumming. During the second set, Roach, who also seems to master the circular breathing technique quite well, harmonizer-processed his didgeridoo and Reyes' voice in a Jon Hassell fashion. Truly magical...

So if you want to know what this evening felt like, then imagine recurring, chanting rhythms that hold a pace as old as the human heartbeat itself. Imagine music that holds terrible secrets and which you rather breathe than hear. Imagine hauntingly beautiful pulses and incantations. Imagine mankind's collective memory.

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